How Our Personal Data Footprint Can Be a Tool for Good 

While the volume of personal data collected on consumers can worry some people, data sharing can be used for good, too, said Beth Egan, an associate professor and director of the master’s in advertising program at the Newhouse School.  

Beth Egan during her Tedx Talk.

Egan delivered a Tedx Talk on the topic in which she outlined some of the many ways that data sharing has a positive impact on our lives. Egan sought to ease the audience’s fears about some of the misconceptions of the use of data. 

Below,  she offers three reasons behind the usefulness of personal data and its impact on everyday life. To learn more, you can also watch her Tedx Talk.  

Hey Siri …  

Every day, we make choices to balance personalization and privacy. It is possible not to share information through “ask app not to track” options on our smartphones, and by turning off ad tracking, voice recognition and location functionalities. We can also choose to use incognito windows to make web browsing private.  

The trade-off is you won’t be able to do things like ask artificial intelligence assistants like Siri or Alexa or get directions through apps like Waze or Google Maps. The ability to know something about you is what makes much of the internet work.   

Supporting Publishers and Small Businesses 

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, had a vision to create a forum where all people had access to the best information at any time. In order to keep the internet free and accessible to all people, publishers turned to advertisers to support their content, just like they have done in virtually every other medium until that time.  

Advertising ensures that you don’t have to pay a subscription fee to access content. And recent research from the Data Catalyst Institute demonstrates how digital advertising is their lifeline. (Egan was a co-author on the report.) The ability to reach niche audiences in specific geographic areas is what sustains them.  

Free and Open Access to Information 

If you believe that the cornerstone of a functioning democracy is free and open access to information, then consider what you’re giving up when opting out of sharing your data. According to Pew Research, the majority of people around the world believe that income inequality is a major problem. We need to be mindful of not creating attention inequality. Attention inequity will be the direct result of internet business models moving to subscription-only models.